We hear a lot about ‘fake news’ and it’s malign influence through social media. Well, over the last few years, I have been observing the increase of another phenomenon on social media – fake history. Many individuals and groups are using spurious, far fetched and downright deceitful accounts of history in order to try to justify their prejudices and promote harmful political and religious ideologies.
History has always been manipulated in this way but academic history has over the last seventy or so years established large bodies of evidence and evidence-based historical accounts which maintain a strong degree of objectivity. In spite of all the nuances discussed in countless articles about the objectivity of history (or the lack of it), there simply are a great many things, which we can safely say are true beyond reasonable doubt. Also, it isn’t difficult for anyone with some basic critical skills to determine when an author hasn’t done their due diligence in researching the claims they make or when he or she has an axe to grind and, therefore, an obvious bias.
Part of the problem is that historical research has not successfully filtered down into general knowledge or cultural awareness in the wider population. History as taught in British Schools has long been very limited in its scope and inclusivity and arguably still is, hence the recent women’s history and Black history initiatives which have sought to redress the balance.
Since it isn’t possible to police the internet, nor should it be possible, the best way to respond to the flood of fake history is surely to foster an environment where there is so much ‘real history’ of a strongly objective and scholarly standard (both in terms of journalistic and academic articles), that the majority of people simply won’t be able to actively avoid or remain ignorant of the truth very easily.
As a historian, I feel a deep sense of responsibility in addressing the ‘fake history’ problem. I have been alarmed by the frequency at which I am meeting people who have been taken in by fake historical accounts, and who when challenged, resort to saying things like ‘well everyone has their own version of history don’t they?’ More worryingly still, I have come across a number of articles published and shared by individuals and groups who might, on the surface, look to be allies of Secular Liturgies Project but who have resorted to answering lies and misinformation with further lies and misinformation of their own.
Much of the fake history I have encountered on social media promotes a right-wing ideology with its accompanying white supremacist and misogynistic tendencies. However, the political left have also been guilty of using the same methods of deceit. Then there are the many traditionalist and fundamentalist religious groups who have mastered the art of bending history in their favour, and on the other side, a few bitter apostates who have chosen to do the same thing in order to vilify and dehumanise the religious.
The Secular Liturgies Real History Project has a simple objective, which is to encourage as many people as possible to share on social media as many scholarly and accurate historical accounts as possible, especially on subjects that are frequently misrepresented by fake or misleading articles. These should be shared with a clear Secular Liturgies Real History hashtag (#SecularLiturgiesRealHistoryProject) and a link to this blog so that people can see a movement growing, learn about it and join in should they wish to. These articles should preferably explore an area or aspect of applied history, in other words, useful history that is relevant to the issues and challenges of the present.
It’s so easy to read a good article and not to think of sharing it. However, it only takes a moment to share something worthwhile across your networks, and it just might help someone to learn something important that they didn’t know before or challenge someone to rethink their assumptions and prejudices. It only takes good people to do nothing for evil to flourish, as the saying goes. Spreading knowledge and understanding increases the resilience of societies and communities against persistent attempts at propaganda and indoctrination.
All articles shared in the name of this project should conform to scholarly expectation. If I or anyone else catches something being posted on behalf of this project that does not, they should call it out. If you would like to take part but do not know how to evaluate sources online, there are many guides produced by universities which can help you. Here’s a link to a good one produced by one of my Alma Maters, the University of Edinburgh:
Once you are familiar with these principles and have a bit of practice in applying them, you are equipped with the basic research skills required to join in with the project. Also, you can always seek advice before posting when you’re not sure about an article. Debates over points in articles shared for this project, which are controversial in terms of their accuracy, are welcome.
I am going to start sharing some articles via the Secular Liturgies Facebook Page to get us started!